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The Great Convergence of AAA Games

As you may know, I am on a slow and steady mission of completing famous big games I missed in the last generation. Playing so many AAA games back to back highlights the similarities between them. However, I really realized how much all AAA games gameplay converged in the last decade or so when I started playing God of War (Santa Monica Studio, 2018) .

I decided to call this behavior The Convergence, and it is an annoying phenomenon, especially when I face new entries in the old series that I love. I think it is time we address this problem.

The Convergence

If you play some AAA game from time to time, you may have noticed this transformation: almost every game genre collapsed into a single meta-genre that we can simply call the AAA-genre.

Sympthoms are evident. Action games increasingly became more RPG. RPG games increasingly became more Action. Every game must have pieces of equipment with fancy (often weird and immersion-breaking) cosmetic elements. Every game must have an “open hub” (if not an entire “open world” element). Every game must have a skill tree and experience points. Every game must have some kind of crating system with a full set of collectible materials with different rarities. Every game must have some sort of (often pointless and annoying) side quests.

All these are must have for… how many AAA games? I lost count of them. They are everywhere and, after playing them a lot, I feel like I am playing the same game over and over; just with different “skins” and setting.

These games blends into my mind. They started separately, and now they are one. This is The Convergence.

The God of War (2018) case

As I said, the motivation for this article was triggered by God of War (2018). I like the God of War series a lot, and I have played almost every title.

The last one I played was God of War 3 (Santa Monica Studio, 2010) : the game was a liner, very action-packed game. No shit, no talking, only beating the crap out of mythological creatures. It was an obvious successor of God of War 2 (Santa Monica Studio, 2007) and the original God of War (Santa Monica Studio, 2005) .1

God of War (2018), on the other hand, feels like a completely different game. It is slower, less linear, with long relaxing boat travels in a big lake and occasional fighting.

In some sense, the more paced and nuanced game makes sense from the story point of view: Kratos is no longer blinded by vengeance and is trying to be a better being. The game is not about blind revenge and violence; instead, it is about a parental bonding and the Kratos desire of teaching his son not to commit his same mistakes. Therefore, because the story supports the change of pace and game-style, this is not a big issue, and, in the end, I think it is a delightful game, and I still liked it very much.

However, there are many other aspects that The Convergence added nothing to the game.

Seriously. What the F is this abomination??!!
Figure 1. Seriously. What the F is this abomination??!!

Let’s talk about the bane of my gaming existence: crafting and side quests. Was it worth to have a bunch of almost useless different armors? Did that add something to the game message and gameplay? In an action game, armor swapping is not a kind of complexity I enjoy. I do not want to stop before every fight to swap to the armor most useful against the enemies I am facing. It butchers the rhythm.2

Are side quests really worth it in a God of War game? Luckily, there are very few side quests in this game. However, half of them belong to the usual dull, uninspired side quest I always complain about. The other half could have been integrated into the main storyline reducing the branching factor.

The Price of The Convergence

In theory, I could endure The Convergence: yes, every game looks the same, but if it is a good “same” I could still enjoy it.

The real problem is that The Convergence is not free. Again, this is very obvious in God of War (2018).

God of War (2018) is incredibly less varied than his predecessors. Enemies are mostly the same in some “fire/ice/poison” variants. Boss fight (except for Baldur) are the same 2/3 monsters repeated over and over (still on fire/ice/whatever variants). The game variety pales in comparison to God of War 3 (or even the first one, in my opinion).

One of the 10494930 identical trolls you will encounter in the game. They are interesting the first 3 times. Then you’ll get sick of them.
Figure 2. One of the 10494930 identical trolls you will encounter in the game. They are interesting the first 3 times. Then you’ll get sick of them.

The cause is The Convergence. It reduced the narrative and game design space by chaining the game to the many constraints of this new AAA Genere. The developer was “forced” to spend design and development time on 20 different armor sets or in useless side quests, and all that time was subtracted from monster and boss fight design.

In the end, The Convergence made God of War a weaker title, not a stronger one. It reduced its unique style and crippled the possibility of new novel game design directions.

Can we stop The Convergence?

To be honest, I do not think there is a way to stop it. Many many gamers want this kind of standardized experience. It is part of the growth of the videogame medium as a mainstream entertainment channel. With a more extensive and varied user base and a long history behind, software houses have a lot of data on what works and what not if they want to spend a lot of money on a “safe bet.” And honestly, it is okay. They just are not games “for me.”

Personally, however, I will still cherish any game house trying to look for new paths or that can maintain their original direction.

Other than that, The Convergence is just one more reason to love and admire the indie developer scene and their struggle to innovate in an increasingly convergent gaming world.

  1. To be fair, The Convergence already started to creep in the third chapter with the introduction of different weapons and extensive upgrades and skills. But it was subtle and limited: the action genre was still apparent. ↩︎

  2. And, in fact, I ended up forcing the entire game with just a couple of armor sets. ↩︎

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